SOMEWHERE OVER THE PHILIPPINES
There are plenty of reasons to plan a return trip to Borneo – even before you leave.
There is an easy-going attitude and an open friendliness.
Eco-tourism and volunteer programs are in full swing; adventure travel is exotic.
Tempting brochures call from the table in the lobby.
“At Gomantong Caves, licensed collectors risk their lives climbing rattan ladders to cave roofs to harvest the much-sought-after edible nests of swiftlets.”
“I’ll call your taxi now OK?” Zaiton’s voice interrupted.
She and her sister manage a pleasant, clean and comfortable hotel.
Quick to laugh, they call you by name from the moment you check in.
They bring large dishes of their own home cooking so guests can enjoy a lunch of real Malay food.
“Turtle Islands Marine Park has been protecting breeding grounds for over 30 years and supports a hatching program; you can watch turtles laying their eggs,” read the brochure.
“Be sure to send a post card from the Philippines, OK?” She was busy writing on one of her business cards. “And here’s my cell number too, in case you forget anything.”
“Danum Valley Conservation Area is home to 275 bird and 110 mammal species, including the Sumatran rhino and clouded leopard,” according to the brochure. “Enjoy a 27-metre high canopy walk.”
The taxi pulled up and the driver hopped out to help with luggage.
There were no more excuses to hang around. Either put down the brochures and leave now, or rebook a later flight.
“Is it OK if we hug your husband good-bye?” the sisters giggled. They had served tea and told stories in their cozy lobby on rainy afternoons.
One of them had done some post-secondary studies in the UK. She will be a grandmother for the first time this summer.
They stood waving in front of the hotel as the taxi pulled into traffic.
It was mid-afternoon, well before rush hour, but things were moving pretty slowly.
This situation seemed to suit the driver; he was the talkative type.
He was born and raised in Malaysia. He knows the country very well.
Henry owns his own guiding business; his vehicles include a large 4WD and his taxi.
He rarely drives in the city; more often than not he is away on extended trips.
In fact, he had just returned that morning from a one-week tour with two Swedish couples.
“The suitcases you saw in the trunk belong to two of my Korean clients,” Henry shrugged one shoulder towards the back of the cab, glancing in the rearview mirror. “They are whitewater rafting this afternoon, and I will be heading back to pick them up as soon as I am finished at the airport.”
In between the regular airport hustle and bustle there was time to enjoy one last cup of Borneo rain forest grown coffee and scour the “last chance” souvenir shops.
A heavy rain shower began just as boarding was called, and there was no covered bridge to the plane.
No problem: each passenger was provided with a large umbrella for the parade across the tarmac.
And now, a couple of hours later, the Philippines are beginning to come into view out the aircraft windows.
Hmm … more than 7,000 islands … white sand beaches … palm trees … world-class diving … well, then bahala na it is.
Go with the flow.
Catherine Millar is a Whitehorse-based writer on a months-long tour of far-flung places. Her chronicle appears here every Monday.